Saturday, January 30, 2010

Culture and Tradition

It is common to hear some people talk about their cultural tradition. Some people believe that a person without a distinct cultural tradition is lost. Thus we may infer that it is culture and tradition that distinguishes and defines humanity into racial, ethnic and tribal boundaries.

When Europeans came to Africa they did not outrightly pacify African cultural and traditional ways of life. It was the Christian missionaries who used the word of God to indoctrinate the natives to forego some of their ‘disgusting’ customary beliefs and practices. It is Christian and Islamic traditions that keep on to undermine African cultural and traditional ways of life.

Political ideology may also help to lessen racial ethnic and secular animosities. We saw the process at work in countries ruled by Communist regimes where religious and ethnic allegiances were banned.

Indeed culture and tradition conceived under complex capitalist societies may colour eccentric bourgeois intellectual and political pasttimes—because the fundamental social and economic development of every country comes to epitomise the cultural traditions of the capitalist class.

In fact economic production conceived under wage labour promotes cultural and traditional integration. Culture and tradition exist but it is alarming to note that certain cultures and traditions are deemed to be primitive.

Thus African cultural and traditional ways of life come to be defined as ‘backward’ in the sense that European civilisation has come to supplant ethnic and tribal exclusiveness. The very word ‘civilisation’ brings to mind the feeling that races and tribes are more superior to others in terms of their cultural and traditional accomplishments.

Thus the term ‘primitive’ is a political and racial derivative that tends to emphasise the attributes of social and political hegemony. Africa has a rich cultural heritage and this can be read in the people’s accents, art and folk music.

In Zambia during the UNIP-led government of Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, Zambia’s traditional and cultural ways of life were rigidly enforced. Music and art were censored in order to promote what was called ‘indigenisation’.

But what transpired was something unforeseen—a Bemba tradition and linguistic presence came to impose itself upon the country. Indeed the Ichibemba language is now a national lingua franca and second to English.

It may seem, that in today’s complex capitalist society, culture and tradition do not define an individual’s social identity in abstract terms. A person’s cultural and traditional identity comes to be determined by the degree of his economic and financial incentives. Social or political freedom without economic and financial privileges is a hoax. Poverty conceived under wage slavery may easily give rise to xenophobia. Socialism will give rise to a change to cultural and traditional ethnics—based upon the primitive accumulation and distribution of wealth.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Robber Oil Barons

With the promise of new oil production in the near future both the Ugandan government and the oil companies involved have been busy painting a rosy picture of bumper revenues and a country transformed. We are promised that Uganda will be turned into a middle-income country by $2bn a year in hard cash.The truth , however , remains that Uganda's oil production sharing agreements point towards a resource extraction programme designed for company profit, not country development.The campaigning group PLATFORM published three of the production sharing agreements the government has spent years keeping a closely guarded secret and contain a series of provisions that undermine any hope of changing course.

The international oil companies, including Tullow Oil, backed by a $1.4bn loan arranged by the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Heritage, run by former mercenary Tony Buckingham are set to reap huge sums at Lake Albert - as much as a 35% return on their capital investment. That's three times what's internationally recognised as a fair profit.The oil contracts are structured so that price risk lies primarily with the state, while the private companies are virtually guaranteed a healthy return even if the market slumps. As the oil price rises, investors will make a higher and unlimited profit, taking close to one quarter of oil revenues, whether each barrel is fetching $70 or $200.The 20-year contracts, consistently weak or completely silent on human rights protection, also include a sweeping "stabilisation clause" - article 19 requires the Ugandan government to compensate the companies for any future change in the law that affects their profits - designed to militate against improvements in environmental standards.Possible future legal disputes between the two sides will not be resolved in Uganda, but in London: at the Energy Institute, whose president will pick the all-powerful arbitrator and for those in any doubt about the bias of the institution, it is currently headed by James Smith, chairman of Shell UK , another oil company mandarin.

Uganda secured one of the best deals in the world for its oil exploration according to claims by Tullow Oil , yet the Norwegian experts advising the government have expressed serious reservations: a review of Uganda's contracts commissioned by the Norwegian Agency for International Corporation in 2008 concluded that the profit-share model adopted "cannot be regarded as being in accordance with the interests of the host country".

Oil always promises growth, affordable energy and employment; from Nigeria to Angola, Sudan to Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, it has delivered only poverty and repression in Africa.While increased oil revenues give the impression of superficial growth, the sudden influx of cash distorts the economy and exchange rates, undermining alternative sectors, including agriculture and industry, that employ and feed far greater numbers. The ingredients for the so-called "oil curse" are all in place: contract secrecy, government corruption, commercial disinformation campaigns, with environmental protections ignored , and a simmering border dispute with the Democratic Republic of the Congo frozen rather than resolved. Lake Albert's oil is likely to prove yet another reason for the Kampala elite to ignore the struggling north and eastern regions of Uganda as the nation's focus shifts west to the oil fields. The transition to a sustainable energy economy will be put back two decades or more, while political tension will only increase.

For all the work of the country's 8,000 NGOs, the 30% budget support from donors and the rhetoric of international aid, it is these botched oil contracts and the financial interests of those oil companies that will do most to define Uganda's future.Uganda will not be transformed into a new Norway.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chinese profits in Africa

THE boom in China's investments in Africa over the past 17 years was driven more by simple profit motives than complex political and strategic considerations, an academic and government spokesman said .

Zhong Jianhua, China's ambassador to SA, said during a debate at the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg to mark the launch of the China Africa Network, that if business investments were made for political reasons, they would hardly be sustainable."I wish I could give political instructions to business people. There may be some cases where people come here for political considerations but most business people come to SA, as in any part of the world, without political motivation..."

Last month the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University circulated an article warning that China's expanding interests in Africa threatened the environmental, economic and political stability of African society. Last year China became SA's biggest trading partner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

We readThe conventional wisdom among Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and (South African Communist Party) SACP strategists, and many other commentators, in business, civil society and opposition parties, is that exploding poverty should naturally strengthen the power of the Left within the African National Congress (ANC) tripartite alliance. Yet the reverse may actually hold true.Rising poverty may actually strengthen populist, and tribalist and narrow nationalist politics in South Africa, rather than Left or progressive politics.

One of the costs of severe mass poverty is mass alienation, mass family breakdown, mass breakdown in individual self-esteem, especially in our country, where self-worth is now increasingly measured in how much money one has. Mass poverty may also cause mass rejection of democracy as solution to problems. In the South African context, in moments of crisis, people often seek solace in tradition, tribe, identity and patriarchy, to affirm, gain dignity or self-respect. These frequently are translated into over-assertions of African or blackness, or ethnicity expressed in over-emphasis on Zulu-ness or Xhosa-ness as the main source of identity.

In fact, rapid changes in society, associated with increased poverty, and alienation – and the Sanco leadership’s inability to respond to this – are partially to blame for the organisation being on the verge of extinction. Some populist leaders in the ANC with a more developed political antenna have already exploited these changes in society, caused by mass poverty. They have made their platform adopting supposedly left positions such as ‘nationalisation’, when it comes to economics; but combining it with social conservatism, approving of polygamy and virginity testing; and adopting muscular policies to deal with social problems, such as the ‘shoot-to-kill’ and ask questions later policy to bring down crime.

Increasing poverty and job losses will reduce the membership base, coherence and strength of Cosatu. Most of those who lose jobs are typical trade union members. The poor – jobless, homeless, rural peasants and young, are now in electoral terms the overwhelming majority. With a smaller base, the trade union federation will face the danger of becoming a ‘labour aristocracy’, of organising only a small working class base who has jobs.The SACP is organised as an elite movement, with a relatively small membership, typically trade unionists, students and those working in civil society. As more and more South Africans become poorer, the membership of the SACP, many also become unrepresentative of the majority mass poor.

Politics of Poverty and Political Parasites

ZAMBIA’S lack of development and widespread poverty is man-made, Zambians for Empowerment and Development (ZED) interim president Dr Fred Mutesa has said.

“Politics of poverty breed political parasites which are as deadly as killer bacteria that invade the human body. Unless this is clearly understood, the national cake will continue to be shared by a minority population while the majority of Zambians remain trapped in abject poverty..."

Zambia has the perfect conditions to become one of the most highly developed nations on the African continent. The country has abundant natural resources which make it the envy of many countries in the world.Minerals of all types and precious stones are buried in the soils of Zambia. The country is teeming with rich wildlife which if properly harnessed can make Zambia the destination of choice for tourists from all over the world. Zambians are among the most peaceful people on the African continent. People of different ethnic backgrounds live peacefully side by side each other. Despite all this development potential the majority of Zambians cannot afford a decent standard of living. They live in dehumanising conditions, which condemn them to a hopeless future.

"...The driving force behind politics of poverty is selfish ambition, seconded by greed and corruption. As long as our nation is run by politicians whose number one priority is to milk the system for selfish gain, nothing much will happen. To get what they want the average Zambian political predator will lie, bribe, steal, circumvent the law, insult and intimidate opponents. The end-effect of such a political culture is the disempowering of ordinary citizens to keep them in the chains of perpetual poverty and ignorance so that they can easily be manipulated.”

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Democracy in Ghana

Dear Comrades,
Reflecting in this letter on a chance acquaintance with Ghana which is now "independent" as members of the British Labour Party would describe it.

The Scandinavian Express speeded towards France. Seated next to me in the compartment was a Swedish psychoanalyst who had decided to exchange "Socialism" for an Italian monastery. A tourist pamphlet was sticking out of his pocket and began: "When the plane lands you are standing on the threshold of a great adventure—Great Britain."
The boat shrugged lazily out of Marseilles harbour into the Mediterranean towards West Africa. For every one African on the boat there were two nuns all crossing themselves at the same time. My berth companion was a young French missionary (sent out to soften up the natives) who was later to read me pieces from the Old Testament and tell me that because I was an African my soul needed saving.

My seat at the dining table was next to an American woman tourist of 65 years, dressed and behaving like a girl of sixteen. Facing her sat a coloured Ghanaian woman married to a wealthy Swiss business man. She told us that because everyone in Switzerland were "equal" she had left her child there to be educated in one of the "best" schools. It was much nicer to have it grow up with ex-Kings and retired millionaires rather than just Africans.

A young Ghanaian girl journalist sat on my left who had been imprisoned with her "idol" Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, when capitalism was being run by the Labour Party. It was, however, interesting to see that she was beginning to understand that Africans were just as capable to administer capitalism as the white man. The poisonous black capitalist boiling pot of intrigue had disappointed one more. Yet she still insisted that the white Africans were interlopers and should be removed, which seemed like race prejudice in reverse.

The journalist had invited me to stay with her friend on reaching Takoradi. The next morning the boat arrived at Takoradi harbour. The police stood around looking like mixtures of male nurses and museum attendants.

After a confiscated passport and the refusal to accept the invitation of accommodation, together with a fantastic questioning. I was quickly deported to Nigeria, which was my destination. This ended my brief visit to the "model democracy".

Speaking on "democracy" in Ghana, Mr. Gaitskell, that great "socialist," said: "It is not possible for us in Britain to determine how you will develop your democracy. It is your affair, but I think in every new country emerging into nationhood certain principles must be observed. They are national unity, a high degree of personal leadership, and thirdly, and the most important, the preservation of individual liberty at all costs."

How easy these words slip off the tongue of a leader committed to try and reform capitalism. The detentions, deportations and imprisonments by Mr. Nkrumah's government are politely called developing "democracy," supported by the Communists and the shifty Liberal, not to mention the Conservatives, who might have made the same speech themselves. One wonders just how much "individual liberty" the British worker enjoys under his "democracy." What a garnish to hide the stench of British capitalism!

But there is still hope whilst Pacifist Fenner Brockway looks to God and black nationalism to "liberate" the African workers:

"God speed to the new leaders of Africa in the vast arena of constructive tasks which spreads before them! " Yes, constructive tasks of maintaining the capitalist system in Africa.
Fraternally yours,
Stockholm, Sweden

(Socialist Standard, March 1960)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Cab-Ride to Capitalism: Servitude by the Majority

Socialist Banner thought it worthwhile to re-post this article from the magazine Socialist Standard .

It only takes a cab ride in a city to see which class has the most power and influence in capitalist society
Everyday taxicab rides may appear to be lacklustre experiences that are quickly forgotten. However, this might not always be the case. Sometimes our views of events may become clouded and we cannot see things for what they really are. However, after taking many cab-rides in an urban city, I began to see things in a different way. On one of my jaunts in a taxicab I decided to investigate what it is that made people come to developed capitalist countries from less developed parts of the world.

In speaking to a cab driver, who left Ethiopia to come to Canada, I found my answer. I asked, “do people tend to be more happy in Western societies than in Ethiopia?” He answered that, “Ethiopia was a poor country.” In his words I could see the influence capitalism now had on his life: he equated how much money one has to how happy they are in life. This is reminiscent of one of the trademark idioms of capitalism that money can buy happiness. This is now disputed even by some who are otherwise supporters of capitalism, but if it were wholly refuted then this could undermine the entire capitalist system. Unfortunately, many people do believe that money can buy happiness in the owning class and force those who do not make as much money into the service industry, which in its very nature seeks to serve the owning class.

Your life is influenced by where you are born

Your life is partly determined by where you are born. For example, if you are born in Ethiopia then your life will be determined by Ethiopian standards and culture. In the United States, Canada or the UK your life is determined by a more developed capitalist system. Someone may come from Ethiopia to experience the “freedoms” countries like these employ, but there is another factor at work here: class. It is easy to show that the system boasts of false promises: Sally wishes to go to university, but Sally’s parents cannot afford to pay for it because in the capitalist system one must pay for everything. Sally’s life path has now been influenced by what class she was born into. Therefore, what the Ethiopian will notice is that “freedoms” have a price and are largely determined by what class one is born into.

Along the same lines, immigrants often receive low paying work in the service industry once they enter the developed capitalist system and they can never afford the education to gain higher paying jobs. As a result they stay in the service industry their entire lives, being some of the most lowly-paid members of the working class of wage and salary earners. It is education and money that allows one to move up in a capitalist society but even if one is to move up the ‘social ladder’, it is only usually to a less badly paid section of the same subservient class.

Finding and maintaining a job is difficult enough for people in poor countries and therefore receiving an education is but a luxury. In fact, the cab driver I spoke to said that he was working to make sure that his daughter would be able to go to university. He has to spend his years driving a car all day long so that his daughter will not have to do the same job and will have a better future. If someone cannot improve their station in life because they have no money to begin with, they also cannot afford to improve their station through higher education. This means that they are left work for the class that owns and controls society. This is because capitalism is not really based on merit, but on how much money one has. This is irrational as merit should never have a price, it should be free and depend on nothing but itself.

The capitalist system is marketed on its promises of equality and freedoms through purchasing power. Prospective immigrants are given rhetoric about how capitalism makes anything possible – if one has money. However, nothing appears possible, let alone free and equal about the owning class being served daily by an exploited working class, who are actually the majority and whose freedom is rationed and limited by their pay packets and salary cheques.

Moreover, how successful you will be in life is largely determined by what class you are born into, and is out of your control. The cab driver from Ethiopia realised that he, or his daughter, would not be able to influence society in a poor country because all of the rich capitalist countries such as those in the G8 are the most influential and have the highest standards of living. However, even though he came to one of these developed capitalist countries, he will almost inevitably remain in the service industry for the rest of his life. This is because capitalism is not based on talent or merit like a truly equal system would be such as socialism where everyone would have an equal opportunity to pursue their true interests in life. In capitalism, your success typically still depends on how rich a family or area you are born into and what kind of a reputation it has. If you are unlucky and are born into the majority, the working class, it is likely that you will remain there to serve the upper class for the duration of your life.

Capitalism Promises Freedoms, But for Who?

It is taught in school that capitalist countries are mosaic countries, small units of various cultures existing within a larger schema or government. This view is marketed so that potential immigrants will not have to leave their customs behind and still be able to reap the so-called rewards of capitalist society. In reality, what exists is a melting pot where these cultures are eventually assimilated. The opposite of a mosaic, melting pot, a term with a negative connotation, is often used to describe societies experiencing large-scale immigration from many different countries that seem to “melt” into the existing society. For example, Muslims are being assimilated into Western culture by way of developed capitalism. Only those who assimilate into the capitalist system are able to experience the "freedoms" it promises, but at often cost to their culture. It follows that people who come to developed capitalist countries work to serve the needs of the majority, who are of a different culture, often by forgoing their own so that they might fit in the prevailing market-driven norms.

Two of the most prominent examples of the melting-pot theory are the African Americans who were enslaved by white people through trade and the Native Americans who were wiped out, enslaved or displaced during European colonization. Though these cultures, mainly the African Americans, regained somewhat of their dignity many years later, they still lost the connection to their homeland, lost their culture and were forced to “melt” into the capitalist system.

The natives of North America are an example of not only assimilation to benefit the capitalist class but of the deception of such a system. The natives did not have money or a use for money until the European settlers arrived. These initiated trade and the natives would work hard to gather furs. They would sell their furs, specifically beaver pelts, which were very expensive items in European society at the time. In return they would receive trinkets such as forks as well detrimental items like firearms and liquor. Further, the economy that was run during colonization was one that the Europeans implemented and operated themselves, i.e. capitalism. Also, when the natives finally became wary of the situation, they lost their land. Treaties for land exchange were deceitfully created in a language foreign to them so that they could not have possibly known that they were signing away their land. They were taken advantage of and most importantly, lost their autonomy and freedom. Additionally, the native clans that do remain in North America are being assimilated, or waiting to be assimilated, into society. One way where this can be seen is through the media impact on younger generations who are lured into Western society with its market-driven imperatives and away from their cultural heritage.


It seems almost unbelievable to think that servitude exists today in a society that is supposed to be ‘meritocratic’. This is because it is unnecessary that there should even be a servant class in society at all, even if the modern form of slavery is wage slavery.

There is no doubt that if one were to ask the Ethiopian cab driver if he would drive a cab all day if he didn’t have to, he would say no. The majority of people work unsatisfying and unchallenging jobs in the service industry and this is not necessary. It is socially demeaning and it is servitude, plain and simple. Capitalism has wrought its negative influences on the African Americans and North American natives. These people were exploited and subordinate classes until they melted into the capitalist society causing social alienation and loss of cultural identity. Further, those that work in the service industry today are not far off from these fates. Their lives may be better now that they can purchase “freedom” but it is at a great cost to their dignity as they spend their lives in servitude based on the amount of money they (do not) have instead of what talents they possess. Moreover, it only takes a cab ride in a city to see which class has the most power and influence in a capitalist society and chances are it isn’t the class of the Ethiopian behind the wheel.

JESSICA FORDHAM (Socialist Party of Canada)

Monday, January 04, 2010

The Last Frontier

We have reported previously on the land grab taking place in Africa and once again we read of more developments

Until last year, people in the Ethiopian settlement of Elliah earned a living by farming their land and fishing. Now, they are employees. They work for Bangalore- based Karuturi Global Ltd., which is leasing 300,000 hectares (741,000 acres) of local land, an area larger than Luxembourg. The jobs pay less than the World Bank’s $1.25-per-day poverty threshold, even as the project has the potential to enrich international investors with annual earnings that the company expects to exceed $100 million by 2013.
“My business is the third wave of outsourcing,” Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi, themanaging director of Karuturi Global said “Everyone is investing in China for manufacturing; everyone is investing in India for services. Everybody needs to invest in Africa for food.”

“African agricultural land is cheap relative to similar land elsewhere; it is probably the last frontier,” said Paul Christie, marketing director at Emergent Asset Management in London. The hedge fund manager has farm holdings in South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Under the agreement with Ethiopia’s government, Karuturi pays no rent for the land for the first six years. After that, it will pay U.S. $1.18 per hectare per year for the next 84 years. ( Land of similar quality in Malaysia and Indonesia would cost about $350 per hectare per year ).

“This strategy will build up capitalism,” president of Ethiopia’s Gambella region said . “The message I want to convey is there is room for any investor. We have very fertile land, there is good labor here ...”

The government plans to allot 3 million hectares, or about 4 percent of its arable land, to foreign investors over the next three years.

Workers in Elliah say they weren’t consulted on the deal to lease land around the village, and that not much of the money is trickling down.
“These Indians do not have any humanity,” Omeud Obank who guards the site 24 hours a day, six days a week said, speaking of his employers. “Just because we are poor it doesn’t make us less human.”